What has happened to the right-wing press' revulsion of coaltion politics?

Before the election, the right-wing press poured scorn on the idea of a hung parliament and coalition rule. How times have changed, says Holly Williams
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The Independent Online

With a budget unveiled this week that is, arguably, the toughest since the Second WorldWar, you might think that the coalition Government, and George Osborne's Budget box of bad news, would face criticism from across the political spectrum. After all, the Lib Dems got their way on the higher personal income-tax allowance and on increased capital gains tax.

But the right-wing newspapers have been unequivocal: gushing headlines have praised Osborne for delivering the "unvarnished truth", and have suggested that thehard times will "do us good". A piece by economic commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in his blog for the Telegraph, was even headlined: "Bravo Chancellor Osborne: you have saved Britain in the nick of time". No mention of that other Nick.

Which is funny, because if you cast your mind back to the hazy, confused world we were in pre-election, pre-coalition, both traditionally Tory tabloids and broadsheets were busily predicting disaster. And no disaster, apparently, could have been worse than a hung parliament. Back then, the Telegraph warned that "voters need to come to terms with the scale of financial crisis facing Britain ... and ask whether now is the time for a coalition" (23 April). Well, apparently it was. And in response to this week's Con-Lib budget, deputy editor Benedict Brogan admired the Chancellor's nerves of steel, concluding that "smart politics is what will make this Coalition a success, and he delivered that yesterday".

Back in April, The Times sternly warned that a hung parliament was "nothing to be wished for" in such "grave times" for Britain. "At such a moment, strong executive government with a mandate for change is preferable to the manifold uncertainties of a weak minority government or a coalition."

What has happened to the revulsion with coalition politics that filled so many pages before the election?

Mutterings about how the markets could react to a hung parliament also seem to have petered out. Pre-election, the Tory press regularly ran stories on the financial woes that a hung parliament might inflict: tumbling shares, a weakened pound, and jittery investors who would worry that a puny, coalition government wouldn't be sufficiently trenchant with its cuts. Now the coalition is being praised for cleaning up Labour's mess. The Telegraph's fear of a "full-scale run on the pound" (7 May) happily did not occur.

Then again, maybe the change of heart is a sign that it really is the Conservatives who are wielding power, making traditional Tory cuts the right-wing press can really get behind.

"I think the Mail and the Telegraph were very dubious of the Conservatives in the run-up to the election," says right-wing blogger Iain Dale, "They never really thought David Cameron was a real Conservative – which was ludicrous.

"But the coalition have done a lot of things they'd want a Conservative government to do. And actually the Lib Dems have been driving some of the decisions; in the first few weeks, David Laws was almost a hero of the right."

Certainly some of the red tops have been cheering the cuts. Despite warning back in April that "a hung parliament might sound vaguely sexy, but the prospect should send a tremor of fear, not excitement, up your spines", the Sun seemed delighted that Osborne has "declared war" on Britain's benefit culture.

Of course, certain newspapers have an interest in the Conservatives taking control of the coalition. Peter Mandelson claimed back in November that Cameron's party was trading policies for support. He has toyed with News International-friendly policies – such as freezing the BBC licence fee and abolishing Ofcom – that would suit Rupert Murdoch nicely.

With the arrival of Cleggmania, the right wing press went on the attack. The dangers of a hung parliament were topped up with shrill stories striving for any dirt on Nick Clegg. The prospect of a government with whom editors had no contacts, no insider scoops, let alone any 'tie-in' deals, must have been a headache.

Yet the presence of the Lib Dems in the corridors of power doesn't seem to have been too problematic for them so far – perhaps thanks to the realisation that some coalition partners are more equal than others.